Police arrested 35-year-old Ronald Wayne Barnett early Friday morning charged him on felony counts of stealing air-conditioning units, copper wiring and copper tubes from eight to 10 Anniston businesses, churches and resi-dences.
The Jan. 21 arrest followed hours of interviews at the police station and a two-hour stake-out at the American Inn, off U.S. 431, where Barnett had been renting a room with his family for the past several months.
Anniston investigators Kyle Price and Justin Hartley had been developing a case against Barnett for months.
Hartley said Barnett became a suspect when investigators noticed a pattern: Several times when a business owner or church parishioner or city resident reported stolen AC units or copper tubes, a couple of days later, Barnett’s name would appear on the list of people selling those items at local scrap yards.
As investigators gathered more evidence, they discovered Barnett was living at the American Inn with his wife, a 12-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old baby.
Then, on Jan. 20, investigators received a report from the manager of LaGarde Plaza, located near the American Inn off U.S. 431: Several large AC units and copper wires had been stolen from the buildings there.
When Hartley and Price went to LaGarde Plaza to take the report, they canvassed the area and discovered several disassembled AC units, copper wires and tubes hidden in the woods between LaGarde Plaza and the American Inn.
“They recovered it, and sent it (the evidence) to crime scene investigations (for processing),” Forythe said.
Investigators were able to use this fresh evidence along with their months-long investigation to secure a Jan. 20 eve-ning stake-out and search warrant for Barnett’s hotel room.
Barnett arrived at the room around 6 p.m. that Thursday, when Anniston investigators, the Street Crimes Team and the Special Response Team presented him with a search warrant.
That search turned up more copper wires and tubes hidden inside the hotel room, investigators said.
Barnett, his wife and children were all transported to the Anniston Police Department, and the Department of Hu-man Resources was called to the scene.
After several hours of interviews with Barnett and his wife, investigators determined his wife was not involved.
But Barnett confessed to stealing AC units from LaGarde Plaza, Sumerall Apartment Homes in McClellan, the Foot of the Cross Church on McClellan Boulevard, Saks High School, and several other area businesses and residences.
“He told us about a lot of them (copper thefts) we already had taken reports on,” Hartley said.
“And some we didn’t,” Forsythe said. “There’s so many of these things.”
Anniston investigators said the stolen AC units and copper were returned to their rightful owners after forensic analysis, but that those owners will only be able to use to them to earn a quick $50 or so at a local scrap yard.
Dr. Phillip Austin, pastor at Foot of the Cross Church where an AC unit was stolen, said his church is struggling to come up with the $3,000 to $8,000 it will cost to replace the unit.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to get up the money to pay for it somehow, because some months, we don’t even make rent,” he said.
But Austin said he was satisfied investigators were able to make an arrest.
Investigators are pleased, too.
For the past couple of months, scrap copper has sold for 60 percent more than it did this time two years ago, mean-ing Anniston investigators have spent an increasing amount of time working copper thefts. Local scrap-metal recy-clers buy scrap copper for prices between $2.65 and $2.85 per pound — about a $1 increase on the $1.75 they paid in fall 2008.
While Barnett’s arrest helps investigators put a dent in some of the problem, they said copper and AC thefts will hardly go away; there are always people out there trying to figure out how to make fast cash.
In fact, on the same day investigators held the Barnett stake-out last week, other officers arrested Anniston resident Damon Pope on charges of stealing AC units and copper from the Anniston Soup Bowl and the Beauty Outlet in Anniston.
“We’re still getting killed (on the copper thefts),” Forsythe said. “But at least now we’ve got a few resolved.”
Barnett’s bond is set at $60,000. He was in custody Monday at the Calhoun County Jail.
Contact Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele at 256-235-3562.